According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of over 1000 independent scientific experts, there is a 95% probability that human activities over the past 60 years have warmed our planet significantly, both on land and in the oceans. We have seen this impact firsthand with record-breaking wildfire seasons in the West, surges of strong hurricanes in the South, and the freak Derecho storms across the Plains. The United States, which represents only 5% of the world’s population, is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, only second to China. Single-use plastics are also piling up in our oceans, and by 2050, plastic could outnumber fish in the sea. We don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, but this is the reality we face, and it’s the reason why shifting toward more sustainable living is so important.
With all of this mounting climate evidence, it can feel totally overwhelming and impossible to know what we as individuals can do to reverse or slow this trajectory. While we as individual consumers are not to blame for the environmental crisis and we need change at a systemic level, it is still important to recognize that we can help change the course for future generations. Small actions taken by many can have large impacts. Sustainable living is key for signaling what kind of world we want to live in. If we, as consumers, put pressure on corporations and governments and demand change for unsustainable practices, they are more likely to switch to a more sustainable business model. One of the easiest ways is to make eco-friendly swaps in our everyday lives, however big or small, to prioritize sustainable living and do our part to positively impact the planet.
Want to learn about sustainable living? Read our eco-friendly tips below to reduce your impact!
What Is Sustainable Living?
Sustainable living is a lifestyle that aims to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint on the planet by utilizing less natural resources and less fossil fuels. Our carbon footprint is calculated by the amount of greenhouse gases we produce from lifestyle choices such as what kind of food we eat, what kind of transportation we use, and what we buy. You can calculate your estimated carbon footprint here.
By consciously consuming goods, or focusing on what we’re buying and using and how it will affect our planet, we aim to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our landfills or polluting waterways. As more people (and hopefully, corporations and governments) focus on sustainable living, less fossil fuels will be produced, leading to a smaller overall environmental impact and reduction of greenhouse gases.
How to Be More Environmentally Friendly Every Day
There is an infinite number of ways to live more sustainably, however, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. We recommend starting small and deciding on what area(s) you would like to focus on first and building from there. Sustainable living doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly all the time – making a conscious effort goes a long way!
Here are some of our top eco-friendly tips to live more sustainably every day.
1. Ditch Single-Use Plastics
Single-use plastic has taken over our landfills, our oceans, and our lives as we prioritize convenience and ease over the health of our planet. We’ve all seen the photos of sea turtles with straws stuck up their noses or whales that have died due to eating plastic bags floating in the ocean. As it currently stands, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, less than 30 years from now. Plastic is so durable that the EPA reports that every piece of plastic that has ever been made in history still exists today. Mindblowing, right? Especially when you think about the lifespan of your plastic fork from take-out or the straw in your cocktail. The simple act of refusing a plastic straw at a restaurant or plastic bag at the store is a small act of resistance that has a big impact.
It’s nearly impossible to always avoid single-use plastic – from produce stickers to plastic bags, to plastic shipping packaging… it’s ingrained in our everyday lives. A good experiment to gauge just how much plastic comes into your life is to collect all of the plastic, single-use items you use in a week – even if you consider yourself eco-friendly, we bet you’ll be surprised at how much adds up over a short period of time. Once the week is over, you can spot patterns or areas where you might be able to reduce your consumption.
Loop is a brand looking to eliminate single-use plastics and switch common household items (like shampoo, toothpaste, ice cream, laundry detergent, etc.) from a throwaway model to a circular model – you can buy brands like Clorox, Seventh Generation, and Meow Meow Tweet in reusable metal containers, and ship the container back when you’re done! Zero waste achieved.
There are tons of simple, eco-friendly product swaps you can make that will reduce the amount of plastic you consume – we’ve listed our favorites below:
- Reusable water bottles
- Reusable coffee mugs
- Reusable straw and utensil kit
- Silicone sandwich bags
- Beeswax wrap
- Cloth produce bags
- Packable grocery totes
- Glass storage containers (BYO for leftovers when you go out to eat!)
2. Grocery Shop Mindfully
The grocery store can be an intimidating place, especially if you are looking to avoid single use plastics. Here are some ways to sustainably shop for food:
- Shop at Local Co-ops or Farmer’s Markets – joining a local co-op has so many benefits, including access to mostly organic food, local and sustainable sourcing, transparent labeling, and knowledgeable staff. Farmer’s markets are great places to get organic, local, in-season produce as well and can help you shop low waste since most produce isn’t packaged (bring your own bags!)
- Buy In-Season Produce – the US imports produce from around the world when our farms are out of season for those items. Shipping has a large environmental impact, so learning the cadence of in-season produce will help you reduce the number of imported foods you buy.
- Buy “Imperfect” Produce – Companies like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market sell imperfect or “ugly” produce that can’t be sold at regular grocery stores. Nothing is wrong with these foods – they would normally be tossed because of cosmetic blemishes or food surplus.
- Shop the Bulk Section – not only will you save money by buying in bulk, but you’ll reduce the amount of plastic in your transactions. Many shelf-stable everyday food items like oats, granola, nuts, rice, beans, chia seeds, etc. can be found in bulk bins. Some bulk sections will even carry toiletry refills such as shampoo, soap, and dish detergent! Once you have your reusable bulk containers (mason jars work perfectly!), shopping in bulk is incredibly easy.
3. Compost Your Food Waste
Did you know that food waste takes up more space in our landfills than any other product category? 23% of landfill space comes from food waste, and this waste rots unproductively. An easy way to make a positive impact on the planet is to start composting. There are so many benefits of composting – it prevents soil erosion, promotes healthier plant growth, cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, and diverts waste from filling up landfills. Some cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, have city-wide composting programs, but there are many ways to compost at home.
Kristen uses the Aerobin 400 Insulated Composter to compost both food and yard waste at home. This bin is large, keeps rodents out, and doesn’t require any stirring – great for people who travel a lot, or who prefer a low maintenance compost bin. If you lack space or feel intimidated by starting your own compost bin, check at your local farmers markets to see if any local farms or community gardens take food waste and collect in a small odor-free compost bin. BFT team member Courtney uses a free service called ShareWaste for composting – you can find hosts in your area to drop off your food scraps (some hosts accept other waste as well, such as paper or yard waste – always check with the host!)
4. Join a CSA or Grow Your Own Food
Buying local produce (when possible) is not only ideal for its small environmental footprint, but it is also a great way to support your local community. CSAs (community supported agriculture) have been around for more than 25 years, connecting consumers with local farmers. Interested buyers purchase a “subscription” and in return, receive a box of fresh produce weekly for the duration of the farming season. You can learn more about CSAs and find one in your area here.
Kristen and her partner Ryan spent time last year creating an organic garden in their backyard, after buying raised garden beds secondhand from Facebook marketplace. You can also buy farmstead raised garden beds from EarthEasy. Through a lot of trial and error (and lots of Google searches!), they were able to grow tons of fresh, organic greens and tomatoes. Growing your own food is a great way to connect more deeply with food and is a ton of fun to watch each stage of growth.
If you don’t have any outdoor space, Gardyn is an indoor vertical hydroponic growing system that has dozens of organic greens, veggies, and herbs you can grow inside your house. Kristen has been experimenting with this in her house this winter and has been amazed at how easy it’s been and the results. It also requires very little water. Included in the price is a smart-app that will guide you step-by-step how to care for your new plants, along with a monthly shipment of 10 new pods.
5. Consider Going Plant-Based
One of the most significant ways to reduce your environmental impact is by switching to a plant-based diet. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, emissions of greenhouse gases from the livestock supply chain make up 14.5% of total human emissions – that’s more than total global emissions from cars, trains, planes, and boats combined! And that’s not to mention the enormous amount of water and resources it takes to raise animals for food. Kristen made the switch to a vegan diet in 2019 and has outlined the positive environmental impacts of a plant-based diet here.
If you do choose to eat meat and dairy, treat it as an indulgence, and avoid inexpensive meat produced on factory farms that pollute waterways and even drive deforestation in the Amazon. Buy local and organic, and buy from a farm that treats their animals well and doesn’t pump them full of hormones or antibiotics.
6. Take Care of Your Clothes & Gear
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, right after the oil industry. This negative impact starts well before we ever step into a store to buy something – it begins with the large amount of water needed to produce fabrics like cotton, the wastewater runoff produced by the chemicals used to treat fabrics, the oil needed to ship goods around the world to be sold, and the plastic microfibers that are released into the water every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester is the most well known synthetic – a lot of outdoor gear is made with this fabric, which is a form of plastic). Here are our top tips for mindfully shopping:
- Buy Only What You Need – the most sustainable clothing items are the ones already in your closet! No need to throw away your perfectly wearable clothes in order to buy something new.
- Repair Your Clothing and Gear – did you rip a hole in your favorite leggings while on a hike? Instead of throwing them away, take them to a local seamstress or alterations shop to get them mended or patched up! Learn how to take proper care of your outdoor gear. If your outdoor gear is showing signs of wear, check the brand’s website to see if they offer any repair services.
- Shop Secondhand When Possible – secondhand stores, Facebook marketplace, Buy Nothing Facebook groups, and clothing swaps with friends are a great place to start! Click here for a roundup of used outdoor gear sites.
7. Reduce Your Water Consumption
No, we’re not advocating for drinking less water – we’re talking about the water we use every day for washing our dishes, showering, etc. Here are a few ways to reduce your water usage:
- Install a low-flow shower/toilet – did you know toilets account for 30% of all indoor water use – more than anything else? By installing a water-efficient toilet, you’ll save 20% more water, and save money on your water bill! This also works for low-flow showerheads and faucets, which also reduce your energy bill by cutting down on the amount of energy needed to heat your water.
- Don’t fill your sink for doing dishes – instead, fill up a bowl on the counter with hot, soapy water and dip your sponge or brush in. Then, scrub over the sink & lightly rinse.
- Turn off the water when you brush your teeth – sounds simple, and it is!
- Shower less – The average 8 minute shower consumes 17 gallons of water. If van life has taught us anything, it’s that giving up a daily shower isn’t as bad as it seems. If you switch from showering every day to every other day, you could save ~60 gallons of water a week. If skipping showers isn’t an option for you, you can also save water by turning the water off while you suds up or by taking shorter quicker showers.
8. Recycle Responsibly
Although 75% of waste in the US is recyclable, only 30% of it actually gets recycled properly. “Wishcycling”, or throwing items in the recycling bin without knowing if they can be recycled is another common problem, as any landfill items thrown in with proper recycling can contaminate the bag and cause the entire batch to go to landfill. Common “wishcycling” practices include trying to recycle “disposable” coffee cups, plastic food containers with food residue, ink cartridges, or greasy pizza boxes.
Here are items that can commonly be recycled:
- Paper: mail, magazines, newspaper, cardboard boxes (remove any packing tape), cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, shoeboxes
- Plastic: water bottles, soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles *Note: anything you recycle needs to be CLEAN and DRY. No food or product residue!
- Glass: food and beverage containers
- Aluminum: cans
While some recycling centers can handle multiple types of items, very few can handle all product types. Every city and recycling center has its own rules about what they can take, so it is extremely important to call your local recycling center or check their website to see exactly what items they accept. Companies such as Terracycle make recycling at home (or the office) even easier by offering zero waste boxes, coffee capsule boxes, etc. to collect your hard-to-recycle items and mail back to them.
9. Make Eco Friendly Swaps At Home
Focusing on being eco-conscious in our kitchen, our laundry room, and our bathroom are big areas where sustainable practices go a long way. Switching to eco-friendly household cleaning products is better for the environment (not to mention your health) by eliminating all the nasty chemicals found in many of the common products out there. You can make your own cleaning products by combining white vinegar and citrus peels (like orange, lemon, grapefruit) – it can be used for everything from washing floors to fabric softener. If DIY isn’t your thing, you can purchase natural citrus cleaner here.
Instead of cleaning up kitchen messes with paper towels, buy bulk cotton or linen hand towels that can be washed and reused. Rather than a typical sponge made with polyurethane (a petroleum-derived form of plastic) get a reusable, washable sponge that can easily be thrown in the laundry or the dishwasher for a refresh.
In the bathroom there are many easy ways to move from throwaway items to reusable toiletries. Here are some of our favorite eco friendly bathroom items:
- Washable Cotton Rounds
- Shampoo + Conditioner Bars
- Bamboo Toothbrush
- Waxed Silk Dental Floss
- Toothpaste Bites
Laundry has a large carbon footprint due to the amount of water used, toxic chemicals found in laundry detergent, microplastics shed from synthetic clothes in the wash, and energy consumed by dryers. Here are a few of our sustainability tips for laundry:
- Wear Clothes More Than Once – not only will this help extend the lifespan of your garments, washing clothes after one wear is generally not necessary (this excludes some categories, such as underwear)
- Use Environmentally Friendly Laundry Detergent – chemicals are not good so close to your skin, so switching to natural laundry detergent is a win-win for your body and the environment.
- Wash With Cold Water – 90% of the energy needed in the wash cycles comes from heating your water. Switch to only washing with cold water!
- Air Dry Your Clothes – dryers have the largest environmental impact in the full laundry cycle. If you do need to use a dryer, use wool dryer balls (or tennis balls) in your dryer to speed up drying time.
- Use a Guppy Bag in Your Washer – Filter harmful microplastics that are shed when washing synthetic garments and catch in a guppy bag to dispose of in the trash versus being released into waterways.
10. Support Sustainable Businesses
Your dollar is as powerful as your vote – each time we make a purchase, we are signaling what we want to see more of in this world. When you do need to buy something new (and let’s face it – we can’t shop secondhand for everything), support companies that are striving for more sustainable materials and practices, are transparent about their business practices, or who support organizations that align with your values. Get familiar with the brands you love and their sustainability practices – look for true transparency and not just greenwashing tactics.
Here are a few certifications to look for:
- 1% for the Planet
- Certified B Corporations
- Leaping Bunny (cruelty-free cosmetics)
- Responsible Down Standard
- Global Organic Textile Standard
- Forest Stewardship Council (responsibly sourced paper goods like toilet paper, milk cartons, and books)
Your money is powerful – spend it on companies that are doing good in the world.
How to Take Action for the Environment
It can feel overwhelming to know how to best support our planet and make sustainable living choices. In addition to individual action, it is imperative that we support environmental organizations that work tirelessly to elevate environmental issues at local, national, and global levels. We can also do our best to become informed citizens and learn how to vote with the environment in mind. Finally, we can urge our employers to join 1% for the Planet (or join as an individual!). Together as outdoor advocates, we can make lifestyle changes and support environmental organizations leading to big change for our planet!
What steps do you plan to take to live more sustainably or what’s your favorite sustainable living tip?